After months of preparations behind the scenes ahead of next month’s Africa Cup in Uganda, the Cheetahs will have an opportunity to learn and test themselves against quality opposition during their training camp in South Africa this week.
A squad of 15 players and three technical officials left the country on Sunday for the training camp at the world class Stellenbosch Academy of Sport in South Africa’s Western Cape province.
The camp forms an important part of the Zimbabwe rugby sevens side’s goal of qualifying for the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022, to be hosted in Cape Town in September and ultimately becoming a core team on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series circuit in the next four years.
The Cheetahs will need to finish among the top three teams from the Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens, scheduled for Kampala, Uganda during the weekend of April 23 and 24 to qualify to the Sevens Rugby World Cup.
To ensure that the team is adequately prepared the Cheetahs technical department has lined up a number of activities alongside the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport (SAS) Rugby Sevens Academy’s high-performance programme, which is renowned for developing world class players.
Cheetahs assistant coach, Ricky Chirengende, who will be leading the team on the week-long camp in the absence of Head coach, Graham Kaulback believes the tour will provide the squad with the ideal conditions to reach their full potential.
The Zimbabwe Cheetahs training squad announced. The team goes into camp at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sports on the 14th of March 2022. My Cheetahs:Your Cheetahs: Our Cheetahs https://t.co/KZpGFyhgEM
— Official ZRU (@ZimRugbyUnion) March 10, 2022
“It’s an opportunity for us to test the systems we have been working on for few months now, against good quality opposition,” Chirengende said in an indepth interview ZimSportLive.
“We will use this trip also bond as group while upskilling the academy. It’s a young academy both coaching and playing wise with lots of potential and capacity to grow and this is a huge development opportunity.
He added: “Our objectives are to develop local talent and build depth against quality opposition, learn lessons pre–Africa Cup, not at Africa Cup, train, eat, sleep rugby in a professional High-Performance environment for a week with little distraction and from South Africa and SAS to implement their programmes at home.”
Chirengende, who played for the University of Kwazulu Natal (UKZN) and now coaches at Maritzburg College in South Africa. He also had a stint Zimbabwe Under-18 Sevens rugby team four years ago.
Together with the head coach Kaulback, a former Cheetahs player, they have been working regularly with a group of locally-based players since late last year after a decision by Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) to have a high-performance rugby sevens academy at home.
“It’s been great being able to work with the guys twice a week and have them under a good strength and conditioning program. Having the guys locally based allows the group to know each other intimately and for us as coaches to build layers of understanding. The buy-in and ownership of the Cheetahs as a brand has also improved and there is more accountability from the academy because we are building together, as we recognize this as year one of a four-year comprehensive Cheetahs plan,” he said.
While players from the academy are expected to form the core of the Cheetahs squad, Chirengende emphasised that the door remains open for other players based in different countries around the world.
“Absolutely, the door is never shut to any Zimbabwean who wants to represent his country. As mentioned, working regularly allows us to build layers of understanding and for coaches to know players strengths and weaknesses and be able to track injuries, fitness etc. A foreign based player who has not been in the Cheetahs system before would be required to commit to the academy so the coaches can assess and also introduce him to the system and hopefully with our vision of creating a professional environment, retain him in the system and benefit Zimbabwe rugby.”
In addition to the setting up of the academy and ongoing tour of South Africa, the new Cheetahs committee led by former player and coach John Ewing has lined up a number of initiatives as part of the broad vision to re-establish the Cheetahs as a rising force on the world stage.
“One of our aims is to improve depth in our local game, so we are planning local tournaments that will involve regional countries and clubs as well as our own local clubs. That way we bring value back into the local game and improve our local player depth. The local players outside our academy will also benefit from playing against outside opposition while the Cheetahs Academy gets essential game time under their belt,” Chirengende said.
He added: “We are striving to improve the local game and welfare of the local based players, who at most times use their own resources and money to get themselves to practice and foot their own medical bills.”
Chirengende also paid tribute to the various sponsors who have backed the Cheetahs’ vision while appealing to other corporates to get behind the team, which a few years ago used to be a darling of rugby sevens fans on the international circuit.
“We thank our current partners Sable Chicken, Zambezi, Digital Consultancy and Athstat who have partnered with us and made this trip possible. The Cheetahs Academy will welcome and appreciate any more partners willing to be part of our four-year plan and vision,” he said.
Cheetahs Squad: Kudzai Mashawi (captain), Godfrey Magaramombe, Vuyani Dlomo, Tamuka Pamire, Munopa Muneta, Kuda Nyamakura, Jerry Jaravaza, Kuda Chiwanza, Munesu Muneta, Ryan Musumhi, Brandon Boshi, Nigel Tinarwo, Tadius Dzandiwandira, Keegan Cooke, Prince Ncube
Coach: Ricky Chirengende
Team manager: Tafadzwa Mhende
Physiotherapist: Margaret Gibson
The Zimbabwe 7's Cheetahs Road to the Africa Cup and World Cup.
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— Official ZRU (@ZimRugbyUnion) November 25, 2021